SHOOTING THE MESSENGER
Guns don’t kill people, neither do people apparently – it is Facebook! Last week, two UN officials tasked with looking into abuses in Myanmar scolded Facebook during a UN Human Rights Council hearing.
When asked whether the platform was good or bad for Myanmar’s emerging democracy, UN special rapporteur Yanghee Lee told reporters it was both but had incited "a lot of violence and a lot of hatred against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities." It was also suggested that Facebook morphed into a "beast" that helps spread vitriol against Rohingya Muslims.
Marzuki Darusman, chairman of a UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar, told the UN rights council that "hate speech and incitement to violence on social media is rampant, particularly on Facebook," according to a written statement of his remarks.
Not unsurprisingly, Facebook responded by saying it is "seriously" fighting hate speech in Myanmar. The fact that senior UN officials sought to blame social media rather than the individuals who post such inflammatory statements is somewhat indicative of an organisation that has found itself floundering to respond efficiently to the crisis in Rakhine state.
To suggest that Facebook is responsible for the mentality of those that use it is somewhat condescending. Hate has been in society since time in memorium and is hardly a product of the digital age. Does it allow faster dissemination of messages, yes, this is true, as it did during the Arab Spring. To say that it is the digital platform rather than the biases of those that use it, downplays the inherent racism in society and the education people have received.
A Facebook spokesperson has defended the site's anti-hate speech strategy and said it had invested significantly in technology and local language expertise in Myanmar. Myanmar's government has also accused Rohingya activists of spreading misinformation about the conflict online to garner global sympathy for their plight.
Social media is a tool, if it is used incorrectly it is the fault of the user not the delivery system. In the past, if someone had sent you a letter saying they didn’t like you, would you really blame the postal worker?